In Bangkok, sense of place can be sipped from a glass. As the sprawling, tradition-steeped city continues to evolve as a cosmopolitan metropolis, a wave of innovative bartenders have taken cues from contemporary mixologist culture to funnel — and mudde, strain, and infuse — Thailand’s very essence into sophisticated concoctions you won’t find elsewhere.
“Usually I start with the fresh produce I want to focus on, for example, pandan leaf or coconut, and build the cocktail around it,” says mixologist Anupas “Kong” Premanuwat of Bangkok’s Ku Bar. “Treating the ingredients with respect and creating a balance of flavours are the two most important things for me.”
Ku Bar occupies a coveted spot on 2018’s Asia’s 50 Best Bars list, which boasts an impressive five additional Bangkok venues. Mixology fans are simply spoilt for choice when it comes to refined cocktails, elevated atmosphere and visionary design — especially at these standout destination bars.
OLD TOWN, NEW BAR
Mixologist Anupas “Kong” Premanuwat spent five years developing his skills at New York City’s destination speakeasy, Angel’s Share, under exalted Japanese bartender Shingo Gokan. In February of 2017, Premanuwat opened a 22-seat, warmly minimalist bar within Bangkok’s Old Town. “I’ve loved Old Town since I was young,” he shares.”The Old Town is full of history, and I like the feeling of time passed.” Don’t be intimidated by its unpolished-from-the-outside location on the third floor of a seemingly vacant building tucked down a dark, narrow alleyway. Once inside, you’ll savour an opportunity to select cocktails incorporating indigenous Thai spirits puen chowna (translation: “farmer’s friends”), distilled from sticky rice, and Northern Thailand’s maa jaduum, crafted from bananas.
3rdFloor, 469 Phra Sumen Rd., +66 2 067 6731, www.facebook.com/ku.bangkok, 7pm-12am
ART OF COCKTAILS
Named after the martini Daniel Craig’s James Bond conceived in Casino Royale, this Silom favourite takes its cues from both upscale London cocktail lounges and modern art museums. The drinks menu, “The Art Book,” features original libations inspired by works including Edvard Munch’s “The Dance of Life” (tonka bean and sesame-infused vodka, capsicum, honey, chili oil, spices), surrealist Toyen’s “Message From the Forest”(rye, beetroot, kaffir lime, dill, ginger beer) and Andy Warhol’s “Campbell’s Soup Can” (roasted corn infused bourbon, sherry, apple, almond, celery and cucumber bitters). The latter is presented in a Warhol art-decorated metal mug with popcorn garnish. Bartender Supawit “Palm” Muttarattana is also a member of a collective that recently launched a floral Thai craft spirit, Lanna. Distilled from jasmine and sticky rice, you can sample it here as well as superb Thonglor speakeasy Rabbit Hole.
10/15 Soi Convent Rd., +66 2 235 2777, www.vesperbar.co, 5:30pm-1am
You won’t find a drinks menu at this speakeasy, nor a marked entrance. Located to the rear of a darkened inlet along the Thonglor district’s main strip — look for a smiling fellow out front to walk you inside — this dimly lit, multi-level space is the brainchild of U.S. expat Joseph Boroski, an international “mixsultant” who also runs a bar and hospitality school. Every concoction is completely bespoke to the guest’s preferences, mood, favourite spirit and preferred ingredient. The drinks also include seasonal exotic fruits, herbs and roots, which are sourced daily at local markets. Be prepared: One drink isn’t enough.
16, 125/13 Sukhumvit Soi 55, +66 2 712 6025, http://www.sipslowly.com/jboroski-1, 7pm-3:30am
GIN IS IN
Australian expat Ashley Sutton made his name as the visionary designer behind Bangkok’s most fantastical, immersive bars and restaurants including J. Boroski, IronFairies, The Bookshop and Sing Sing Theater. His signature style could be described as Alice-in-Wonderland-meets-M.C.-Escher with dashes of sci-fi and steampunk. In 2015, Sutton expanded to distilling and, inspired by the wealth of available regional spices, conceived an original gin, Iron Balls. Its unique flavour is due to its pineapple and coconut-derived base spirit. While Iron Balls’ namesake bar and distillery is located in Ekkamai, Sutton opened Phrom Phong’s lively Iron Balls Gin Parlour in early 2018, serving mixologist Carson Quinn’s Iron Balls-centric creations, including a Bael Fruit Sour.
Sukhumvit 45 (alley), +66 2 662 4478, www.facebook.com/ironballsginparlour, 7pm-2am
Bangkok’s first gin-centric bar, opened in 2015 in rustic Chinatown, paved the way for today’s still-proliferating gin scene, including Thonglor’s Just A Drink Maybe from Taiwanese bartender team Herman Wu and Soso Cheng and an annual Bangkok Gin Fest. Mixologist Niks Anuman’s daily menu, scrawled on a chalkboard, is driven by local ingredients and playfulness. A must-try is his refreshing Thaitea Gintonic, which captures aromatic, sweet Thai iced tea. Anuman has since opened another watering hole just across the street, Asia Today, where you can savour libations highlighting wild Thai honeys served in beeswax mugs and giggle at a cheeky neon sign reading, “This bar is better than Teens of Thailand.”
76 Soi Nana, +66 81 443 3784, www.facebook.com/teensofthailand, 7pm-12am
To experience the cocktail scene in Bangkok, consider booking Club InterContinental at InterContinental Bangkok. Dedicated Club InterContinental staff can share their favorite local drink spots, and you’ll enjoy an exclusive experience, from complimentary afternoon tea to evening cocktails and canapes at the exclusive Club InterContinental lounge.